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Full text of "My Country And My People"

22O           MY    COUNTRY   AND    MY    PEOPLE

able to reflect the prosaic facts of life, and for this task the old
literary language was unsuited. Secondly, good prose must
have the sweep and width of canvas for full display of its
powers, and the classical tradition always inclined to extreme
economy of words. It believed in concentration, selection,
sublimation and reorganization. Good prose must not be
dainty, and the aim of classical prose was only to be dainty.
Good prose must move along with natural big strides, and
classical prose only moved about on bound feet, where every
step was an artistic gesture. Good prose requires perhaps ten
to thirty thousand words for a full-length portrait of a character,
as for instance in Lytton Strachey's or Gamaliel Bradford's
portraits, and Chinese biographical sketches always limited
themselves to between two hundred and five hundred words.
Good prose must not have too well-balanced constructions,
and the euphuistic prose was distinctly too well-balanced.

Above all, good prose must be familiar, chatty and a little
personal, and the Chinese literary art consisted in concealing
one's feelings and putting on an impersonal front. One would
expect a biography of at least five thousand words from Hou
Ch'aochung, giving an intimate portrait of his lover Li
Hsiangchiin, and then finds that Hou did his Biography of Miss
Li in exactly three hundred and seventy-five words, written
in a manner as if he were describing the virtues of his neigh-
bour's grandmother. Owing to such a tradition, research on
the lives of people of the past must for ever grope among
sketches of three or four hundred words, giving the barest
beggar's outline of facts.

The true fact is, the literary language was entirely unsuitable
to discuss or narrate facts, which was the reason why writers of
novels had to resort to the vernacular language. The Chochiian,
written probably in the third century B.C., still commanded a
power for describing battles. Ssiima Ch'ien (140-80? B.C.),
the greatest master of Chinese prose, still kept a close touch
with the language of his day, and dared to incorporate words
which later scholars would have sneered at as "vulgar," and
his language still retained a virility unmatched by any later
writer in the classical language. Wang Gh'ung (A.D. 27-107)
still wrote good prose, because he wrote more or less as he